Wednesday, September 28, 2011

New Book

   We'll have to see how this one goes over. I sent Up North off to Nik to see if he's interested. I have the rough draft on Lulu.com but I'd really rather see it published by Solstice. For those of you who have read the first eight chapters on here could you give me a little feed back on what you think of it?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Up North

If anyone is interested in the rest of Up North it's on lulu.com.

Up North 8

Chapter 8

The Trip
   Here it was the last week of July and I’d been working on the place since the first of April trying to get everything ready for winter. The cabin was as snug as I was going to be able to get it. The garden was doing well and I was even getting a few green beans from it. I was planning on letting everything grow as long as I could then save as much as I could for winter. I had quite a few smoked and dried fish and was already getting a little tired of fish suppers. I knew I was going to have to go to town at least once more before bad weather set in and stock up on a few supplies. The problem was that I was a little short on cash. I had around a hundred dollars worth of gold I had panned out of the creek and I had made a few bucks from putting on a fish dinner for a couple of the fishing trips that had come down the river. I was still going to need quite a bit more to make sure I had what I needed to get through the winter. One of the things I was going to need was traps. If I could get enough of them I’d be able to make money that winter with a trap line. I had already seen pine martens, fox, wolverine, ermine and two Lynx and that’s not counting the wolf pack that came through about once a month.

   I decided the best way to make a little money would be panning for gold again. I hadn’t really had time to put in a good trip other than the one up to the waterfall a couple of months ago. This time I planned on being gone at least a week panning the creek as I went and trying to find the best places. If I could find a really good spot to pan I could set up camp there and work the area until I thought I had enough. There was color in just about every spot I had looked in the creek but such a small amount you could work all day for a few penny weights and I was looking for a spot I could find ounces. I knew that was going to be real hard no matter how far I went or how hard I work because all I had was my gold pan. I was really wishing for a good sluice box or even a dredge but wishing for it wasn’t going to make them appear so I was stuck with what I had.

   I packed everything up and headed out at daylight. That seemed to be my normal starting time for two reasons, number one I could cover more country by getting an early start and number two I just liked walking through the woods as the sun came up. You’d be surprised at what you can see at that time of the day. A lot of the night animals are headed back to their dens for the day. The birds are just coming out to start feeding for the day. No matter what country I’m in be it deep woods or the high desert daylight has always been my favorite time of the day. Just on the trip to the waterfall I got to see three Moose one a cow with two calves. There was one nice size river otter playing in the pool below the water fall. I sat on a log and watched him swimming around the pool then dive down and come up with a trout. The fire pit was still there from the last time I had been to this pool so I decided to spend the night there, do a little panning and maybe a little fishing but mainly I just wanted to relax and see if I could spot any more wildlife. I went up to a small meadow and found a nice size patch of blue berries with quite a few of them ripe. On the way back to the creek I happened across some chanterelle mushrooms and since this is about the only kind of wild mushrooms that I know are safe I gathered all of them I could find. Now that had the beginning of a good meal. I had to make a detour to a beaver pond off the main creek and gather some cat tails. You can eat most of the cat tails including the roots but I was looking for some nice green ones. You can peel the inner core out of them and either eat them raw or drop them in a pan along with the mushrooms. The nutty taste of the tails goes really well with the shrooms. When I got back to the pool I spent just enough time fishing to catch one trout. There is just enough fat on a trout to add him in with the shrooms and the cat tails in one pan. I was going to have coffee with the meal but since I had only brought a little with me I decided to have willow bark tea instead. That was just one of many great meals I had while I was in that country. Very filling and the only supplies I had brought with me that I needed to use was a small amount of salt and pepper.

   I had found a tiny bit of color below the waterfall but I still had a long way to go before I would even be close to an ounce so the next morning I headed on up the creek. I had been up this far before and found a couple of good spots in the bedrock but this time I wanted to do a little sightseeing so I passed by that area and moved up to new country. I was climbing pretty steadily and by the end of the second day I found an open meadow where I could look back and see the river shining in the distance. This is the first time I had been this far east of the cabin and had no Idea of what lay ahead. I knew if I went far enough I would be in Canada and the only way I would know it would be when I met a Mountie. I wasn’t worried about getting lost as long as I followed the creek. I had passed several waterfalls and rapids that day but the creek didn’t look much smaller than it had back on the first day. I knew there was gold in the creek but with the swift and deep water there just wasn’t anyplace I could get to with my pan. I needed, and hoped I would find an area of bed rock the creek had cut through without being too deep. I was really tired from the hike that day and it was starting to look like it was going to rain so for my camp that night I found a grove of trees away from the creek that I hoped would shed any rain. I only had one tarp with me and if I needed I could always wrap up in it to keep the rain off.

   I’m not sure what woke me up that night but as soon as I was awake I could hear something moving around in the trees. It had started to rain very lightly and my fire was just about out. I was trying to slowly push some more firewood on it when I heard a woofing and clacking noise very close by. I had been up here long enough to recognize that noise. Somewhere in this grove of trees with me was a bear. I knew he was agitated from the sounds he was making but with the rain and him moving around in the tree I couldn’t tell exactly where he was at. I set up as slowly as I could and leaned my back against a tree. Thank god I hadn’t wrapped myself up in the tarp yet nor was my sleeping bag zipped all the way. Once I was against the tree I was able to shrug the sleeping bag down and reaching out with one hand as able to pull my rifle to me. One thing I had learned was never to go anywhere in that country with an unloaded gun so all I had to do was flick the safety off and I was as ready as I’d ever be. The bear had stopped making any noise during this time. I wasn’t sure if he had taken off while I was getting myself against the tree or if he was standing just the other side of the fire watching me. I didn’t have any choice though, I had to have some more light. Holding the rifle in my right hand I was able to just reach my stack of fire wood with the left. I tried to ease the branches into the fire making as little noise and movement as I could. I got five or six sticks on the fire when I heard him moving to my left. I had seen quite a few bears since I had been up here. A couple of them scared me and a few even amused me but there is nothing but solid fear when you’re sitting with both your legs wrapped in a sleeping bag, in the dark trying to see a bear that as far as you know may be standing close enough to you to swat you with a paw. Then I heard him moving in front of me just as the fire flared up and there he was, or at least there were his eyes. He was just across the fire from me moving to the right. He didn’t like the fire and stopped to stare at me. I realized he had been moving back and forth on the other side of the fire trying to figure out how to get to me.

   I eased my hand down and shoved a couple more branches in the fire even though I knew it wouldn’t stop him if he decided to charge. Thank God I had decided to sleep next to the tree because if he did charge he would have to come at me from the front and that would give me a very slim chance. The very last thing I wanted to do was to have to shoot at him. I knew that at best I would only get one shot and I was under no illusions that I was going to come out of it unhurt if at all. I think the part that scared me the most was the he kept clacking his teeth as he stared at me which usually means they’re really excited and getting ready to charge. I was afraid to even bring the gun up and aim at him because that little extra movement might be enough to sit him off.

   He kept moving back and forth in front of me of what seemed like hours. He would clack his teeth and every once in awhile make the woofing sounds and come a few steps closer. Each time he did that I thought it was over but before I could raise the rifle he would back off again. Then it was over. It seemed like I was staring right at him when I blinked my eyes and he was gone. I was afraid to move. Afraid he might still be there so I sat against that tree pushing wood into the fire until it finally got light enough to see.

   I was soaked from the rain and my eyes were gritty feeling from trying to stare back under the trees. Once it was light enough to see I had almost convinced myself that it had been a nightmare until I moved around the fire and could see the tracks he had left in the muddy ground. I have no idea how big he was but I spread my fingers out as far as I could and put them in one of his prints which were over twice the size of my hand. I gathered my stuff up and got myself out of there just as fast as I could. I don’t know why I reacted like that but I was four hours up the creek before I even slowed down. For the first hour I was just about running and jumping at every little noise. I went as far as I could before I just collapsed on the ground. Part of me wanted to cry from relief and another part wanted to laugh, I think I did a little of each. Once I finally got calmed down enough to pay attention I couldn’t figure out why I had reacted that way. For one thing it was over and the bear had left at least a couple of hours before my mad dash up the creek. For another thing I had no idea why I had run UP the creek instead of back toward the cabin. They only tracks I had checked were the ones by the fire so I really had no idea which way the bear had gone. For all I knew I might be running along right behind him.

   It still took another hour for me to get calmed down and take a look around at where I was which wasn’t a bad place. I had somehow managed to stop right at a place I had been looking for. The creek had spread out to only a few inches deep and was running over a section of bedrock a few hundred feet long. As I got my breath back and started checking things out I realized this was going to be a good spot for prospecting. I spent most of the rest of the day fixing up a camp even going so far as to drag a bunch of drift wood over and lay it out in a circle around the camp. Nothing would be able to get close to me without my hearing it. I also stacked enough fire wood to last at least three nights. I wasn’t taking any chances. With all that I still spent a really nervous night. I woke up so often during the night knowing I had heard something that I ended up only getting a few hours sleep.

   I didn’t get back to normal until the fourth pan the next morning when I found a few pickers and one decent sizes nugget in my gold pan. Even being scared to death was no match for gold fever. I stayed there for the next three days working till well after dark and just taking time out from panning to grab a quick bite. I had to quit then because I realized that if I didn’t catch a fish or something it was going to get real hungry by the time I made it back to the cabin. I hated to stop but by then I had well over an ounce of gold. I piled up some rocks and marked the spot as best I could on the map planning on filing a claim the next time I went to town. I wasn’t too worried about anyone else messing with the spot as I had seen no sign of another person even being in the same country since I had left the cabin.

   For all the excitement on the trip up I had a totally uneventful trip back home. I spent one cold hungry night before I got back to the waterfall and managed to catch a couple of trout but other than that it was a walk in the park. The biggest wildlife I even saw was one beaver and a few pine squirrels. Everything looked normal when I got back to the cabin. I had left the cellar door open to keep the fish stealing bears out and it seems it had worked. The only thing that surprised me was a note on the door. I seems that some guy had been on his way to Circle from Fort Yukon and had turned his canoe over. He had found the trail to the cabin and came up to see if anyone was there. His note apologized for going in but it sounds like he was soaked and I know how that feels. Nothing was missing although my dishes had been cleaned and stacked on the counter. I figure he’d got something to eat while his cloths dried out. His name was on the note and he told me where to find him in Circle.

   The next day I went down to the river and put up a flag I used to get James’s attention when he was on the river. I was getting lazy and I thought I’d give it a couple of days to see if he stopped by. I could catch a ride with him either to circle or Fort Yukon and see if I could sell my gold and restock on supplies and traps. Surprisingly as I was on the porch having a cup the next morning he came walking up the trail. He had a couple of other guys with him and I found out they had been on a fishing trip down river and were headed back to Circle when they saw the flag. He told me he’s be happy to give me a ride as long as I didn’t mind staying the night because he wouldn’t be headed back down river until the next day. How could I argue it was a one day trip to town with his jet boat versus up to three days up and two days back with my canoe?

    It was my first ride in his jet boat and let me tell you, it was exciting. All the rapids that I had to carry my canoe around we just went powering through. There was one spot I don’t believe was part of his normal trip, I think he was just showing off because we went through a couple of big rocks where there was not over a couple of inches on each side of the boat. It was dark by the time we pulled up to the docks and I helped James get his fishermen unloaded and back to their cabin. I ended up spending the night at James’s house. I got to meet his wife and two kids and had the first home cooked, by someone else, meal that I had enjoyed in over four months. As much as I enjoyed being at the cabin and out by myself it was really nice to visit with other people that night.

   I headed down to the store the next morning to see if I could sell my gold and pick up the supplies and be ready to head back down river by the time James was ready. Not only could I sell it but I had a little over nine hundred dollars worth. Plenty for the supplies I needed plus a few extras. An odd thing happened while I was at the store. When I filled out the paperwork for the gold the store owner saw my name and told me he had something for me. I had no idea what it might have been but I followed him out behind the store. I didn’t see anything out there that I thought he might be talking about until he pointed at a sixteen foot canoe. He told me a guy had come in a few days before who was going back to the states and wanted to leave some stuff for the guy that owned the cabin down river. It seems he had found my name in the cabin. It seems it was the guy who had turned his canoe over. Since he was headed back to the states he had left me his canoe and half a dozen traps as a thank you for using my cabin. I thought that was really nice of him although I didn’t mind him using the cabin to get warmed up the canoe actually worked our well. James had four guys going fishing that day and between all their gear there wasn’t a lot of room in his boat. By having the new canoe we were able to put all my stuff in it and tow it behind his boat. I have to admire the way he can run his. At one of the rapids he turned his backwards and let my canoe go ahead of us down the rapids keeping just enough power to his for control. If I had been running his I would have smashed both of them.

   We made it back to the cabin just fine and in exchange for a smoked salmon lunch all the other guys helped me unload all my stuff. They were going to camp on the river that night and do some fishing the next day so things worked out well.

   No I had even more work to do getting the traps ready for that winter. I had trapped in the snow down home but from what I was hearing and what I had seen the winter before I had never tried it in the kind of snow Alaska had. I was a little apprehensive but looking forward to it at the same time. I also needed to harvest my garden. I took most of the onions and hung them from the rafters in the cabin along with the peppers. The potatoes were looking good and after I dug them out they went in the root cellar. I was really hoping the bears would leave them alone. I was surprised that I got almost two bushels of pinto beans as I really didn’t think they would even grow up there. Just to be on the safe side I went up to the beaver pond and spent a day digging cat tails. The roots may not be the best tasting thing in the world but they are filling. The one bit of bad news I had was from James. He was talking to his fishermen the night he was here and remarked to them that during the winter the Yukon would freeze. I knew it was going to get really cold but I never even though about a river the size of the Yukon freezing. It was going to be an interesting winter.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


   The book is now out in e-book and print versions, not much else I can do but just wait and see if anyone wants to buy it. I'm not totally sure but I think you can go to any book store and have them order it for you. The print version is just on Solctice right now, it will take a couple of week to be up on Amazon.
   As much as I love my family and friends and thank all of you for your support I'm hoping that at least a few other people will be interested.
   Writing this has been great fun for me and if I have managed to put a smile on your faces or a chuckle in your hearts then that is just icing on thje cake!


  For those of you who do get the book, could you please take a couple of minutes and do a review? Good or bad it's the only feedback I get.
Thank You

Down Home -- Print - Solstice Publishing Inc

Down Home -- Print - Solstice Publishing Inc

Monday, September 19, 2011

Up North 7

Chapter 7

More Work

   Everything was going fine at the cabin. The garden was growing pretty good even thought I’d had to gather driftwood from the river and build a fence around it to keep the rabbits out. I was looking forward to cold weather when I’d be able to have a nice rabbit stew for supper. The temperature was up in the 70’s which I think surprised me the most as I wasn’t expecting it to be there this far north. One thing I did need before the weather turned cold was to fix my cache. It was working pretty good with my stuff stacked on it and tarp covering it but I was planning on using it to store meat for the winter and I needed something a little more substantial that a tarp. I had the existing platform just a little over fifteen feet above the ground. Since the tallest claw marks I had seen so far from a bear was about ten foot I figured I’d be ok at that height. I over laid the platform with another layer of logs to get it out to eight feet by eight feet and built another cabin on top of it.

   This was a whole lot easier said than done. I had to carry each log up the ladder one at a time and fit them to the walls. I had over half of them done when my home made ladder decided to break as I was half way up with another one. I didn’t get hurt from the fall other than my wounded pride but I did have to stop and build another ladder. Once I had the walls and the roof completed I had to build one more ladder because I forgot that the one I had wasn’t long enough to reach the top. At least I was able to carry a bundle of shingles up at one time which saved a lot of upping and downing. It was a real pain to chink the logs that high though. I had to mix the mud and straw one bucket at a time and was only able to work as far as I could reach from the ladder. I’d already fallen the one time and I sure didn’t want to do it again.

   I finally finished after four daylight to dark days and was relaxing on the porch when I decided I’d build a root cellar. My plan was if I built the cellar I could keep any veggies I might have in that. Then the cache would only have to be for meat which was the main thing I was worried about the bears getting. Plus I wouldn’t have to climb the ladder for the little stuff. I knew that digging one wasn’t going to be all that easy but really how hard could it be to just dig a hole in the ground. Let me tell you not easy was a huge understatement! I had never really dug a hole in Alaska before. The little bit of scrapping I did for the cabin floor was nothing compared to this. I found out real quick that after about twelve inches of loose stuff the ground was still frozen and this was in early July! I worked my tail off that day and all I had to show for it was a hole less than two feet deep. My plan had been for the cellar to be at least six feet deep because I figured I’d have to have a flat roof on it and I wanted plenty of head room. I might have to rethink that plan.

   I had it started though and I wasn’t about to give up. I worked away at it for the next several days finding along the way that I was better off working in the afternoon when the sun had thawed out the dirt a little. Early in the dig I had even tried building a fire in the bottom of it to see if I could thaw the ice. By the time I had dug all the resulting muck out from that misadventure I looked like I’d been working in the coal mine for three straight days. Now here’s the thing about being dirty in Alaska. You can take a pan and heat water over the box stove. That’s good for a general cleaning and for shaving but the one thing I did not have was a bathtub. That means that at some point no matter how much you might hate it, you’re going to have to get in the creek. My bath place was up the creek at the waterfall I had found on that first trip. There was that nice deep pool right below it and it was a real pretty place to go but no matter how good it sounds that water was cold! I’m talking ice water cold. Down home we used to swim in cold creeks and rivers. If you stayed in them long enough you would eventually get use to the water, not up here. I don’t care if you could stay in that creek all day long the only thing you were going to get was hypothermia.

   I finally got the cellar hole dug even though it took me until the second week in August. I didn’t dig on it every day because I still had a lot of other things to do like getting firewood stored up. I roofed it over with two layers of pine logs then piled all the dirt I’d dug out back on top of it. I used spruce planks for the door, frame and steps and I put a couple of shelves in it to hole the veggies. I was kind of proud of it once I got it done and even got a surprise when I went down into it after it had been finished for about a week. The interior of the walls had re-frozen. I left my thermometer down there for a day to check it out. It was a cool 30 degrees, just right for a nice cold storage and I was looking forward to having if full of potatoes which were growing well in the garden.

    Another thing I did just about every day was gather firewood. I had heard enough from the old timers and read enough to know it was going to get mighty cold where I was. I was to find out that I really had no concept of what cold was really like. I ended up with wood stacked two rows deep along both sides of the cabin plus I had built a wood shed that was twelve by fifteen feet and had it stacked completely full. I even had a log pile at one end of the porch I was planning on staying warm.

   I had started catching a lot of salmon by this time so of course I had to build a smoke house. At least this one wasn’t too hard since I use the left over side cuts from making my planks; I ended up looking kind of like a log cabin stood on end. The first time I used it I tried to just hang the fish at the top and build a fire at the bottom. First thing it did was get way to hot and I ended up with salmon charcoal. Next I tried sitting right there by it with a bucket of water to keep the fire down. That kind of worked but I would have to sit there at least every other day to handle the fish I was catching. My last plan actually worked pretty well. I dug another hole about six feet from the smoke house with a trench running into the house. I covered the trench with logs and dirt. Now I could start a fire in the hole and get a nice bed of coals built up then throw a bunch of cedar chips that I had soaked in water on top of them. I could then cover the hole and it would smolder and smoke for most of the day. The trench would channel the smoke into the house and all I had to do was stop by every once in awhile and add more chips. Now I could fill the house almost from top to bottom with fish without worrying about them. Of course every time I fired it up I did have to worry about those fish stealing bears. I had been pretty lucky since that first trip. I knew they were around. There wasn’t a day that went by without me finding tracks. Had I have thought of it I’m sure I would have realized that the well worn trail next to my creek did not happen on its own. For the looks of the tracks on there it must have been a major bear highway. I even came back from a full day of fishing and found a bear sound asleep on my porch. I went back for some more fishing and thankfully he had left by the time I came back.

   After all the work I did on the cellar I’m not going to be able to use it, at least not till the fish stealing bears go into hibernation. I smoked about fifteen fish and they were looking so good! Nice color really nice glaze. I was proud of them. I believe I would have been able to sell them in any store anywhere. I finished them just after dark and being the lazy person I am I decided to put them in the cellar instead of climbing all the way up to the cache. I got up the next morning and walked out on the porch to have my coffee and welcome the world. The world didn’t have a very good welcome for me when I glanced over at the cellar. The door, frame and all, was pushed off to one side. I knew what I was going to find but I had to go look anyway. Sure enough there were bear tracks all around the entrance along with pieces of my gorgeous fish. One of the shelves was laying on the floor and every single fish was gone. I tried using the cellar again during that summer but at least one of the bears had decided it was his personal grocery store. I tried everything I could think of to block the door but every morning it would be laying off to the side. I finally just gave up and left the door open so at least he would destroy it. I came stomping out one morning expecting to find the door laying off to the side, instead I found a bear laying on the porch again. Now that cabin was only fourteen feet wide and the door was in the middle that put me way closer to him than I really wante to be. Back in the cabin I went dropping the latch and sitting on the bunk for a nervous hour holding my rifle and waiting for him to try coming in. It got to the point that I had to drill a peep hole in the cabin door so I could look out and make sure there weren’t any bears on the porch then poke my head our and check both ways.

   One good point on the wild life front. I had been seeing quite a few more Moose during my wandering around. I liked seeing them because my ultimate goal was to have one up in the cache during the winter. Having a Moose up there would be the difference between whether or not I would be able to make through the winter.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Up North 6

Chapter 6


   I decided to take a day off and go fishing. I knew there were salmon in the river along with the trout I’d been catching and I wanted to catch as many of them as I could. The nice thing about salmon is that they are fairly easy to smoke or dry and they last a long time. I was planning on having them as one of my main sources of food during the winter months. The problem was I didn’t know for sure when salmon would be making a run up the river so I needed to spend a day fishing every so often to see if they were there. Darn, the trials you have to go through to be a pioneer.

   I gathered up my pole, lures and a stringer and walked down to the river. I had been having good luck catching trout right at the mouth of my creek but so far I had never seen a salmon there. It was the same this day. I caught a couple of trout which I would smoke and could have probably caught a few more there but I was looking for salmon so I wandered on down the river. I would check out likely spots as I went sometimes catching a few trout but just no luck with the salmon. I had wondered far enough down the river to know it would be dark by the time I made it back to the cabin when I decided to try one last spot.

   I made half a dozen casts without even getting a nibble. I thought I’d move to one more deep hole and if I had no luck there I would call it a day. I had only made a couple of casts at the new hole when I got a really good strike. I wasn’t sure what it was. Either a very large trout or it could be my first salmon. All I had was a spinning reel and not very heavy line so I had to work it carefully to make sure I didn’t lose it. I worked my way up and down that bank for a good fifteen minutes before I got it close enough to see that it indeed was a salmon. It took another ten minutes to finally get him up on the bank. I didn’t know the difference between salmons back then I just knew it was healthy looking and weighted around ten pounds. I took a few minutes to get a good enough hold on it to get the hook out. Buy the time I did get the hook out I was too excited to worry about putting it on the stringer. I wanted to get the hook back out and see if there were more of them out there so I just tossed it behind me far enough up to make sure it didn’t flop back in.

   It took me a little longer to catch the second one but it was even bigger and just as nice looking as the first one. It was getting later and I knew for a fact I’d be walking home in the dark but I wasn’t going to quit until it was too dark to see. I tossed my line right back out in the same hole. I was having good luck there and didn’t see any reason to change anything. Sure enough it didn’t take over three casts to get another one. I was getting the hang of how to play them by then. I could work to get them down river just a few steps to a shallow spot. Once in the shallows I didn’t have to worry so much about them jumping and breaking the line I just had to keep them from turning and running back to the deep channel. This one felt like he was either the biggest of the bunch or my arms were getting tired but whichever it was I was determined to get him on the bank. I spent a good twenty minutes just getting him into the shallows and close to the bank. Then the unthinkable happened, he broke the line. I had him to the point where over half his body was out of the water by then and there was no way I was losing this fish. I dropped my pole and jumped in the river with him. The water wasn’t even higher than my boots but I must have made a strange sight trying to grab him out of the water. I finally grabbed him but not with a very good hold and I thing I throw him in the air at least four times on the way to the bank. He was a nice looking fish and I’m pretty sure he was bigger than the first two. I tossed him up with the other two and set to work replacing the hook. I was figuring that if my luck held out the next one should be a real whopper.

   The only thing I had been paying any attention to was getting the hook replaced and back in the water. I knew the fish were far enough up on the bank to be safe so I didn’t have to worry about them flopping back to the river. I was already planning a big salmon dinner in my mind as I cast back out for the next one. I had caught the first three on a bright red spoon but somehow I had lost it during the fight with the third one. I don’t know if he spit the hook out when he broke the line or if I knocked it out of his mouth during the battle but it was gone. The only other spoon I had with me was a yellow one but I was more than willing to try it. I may have been will but for some reason the fish just didn’t seem to like yellow. I must have cast that thing out there two or three dozen times without a single hit. I was just standing there staring at the river trying to think of something I could do different when I notice a sound behind me coming from where my fish were.

    I turned to see what it was and got the surprise of my life. Sitting there on the bank, not twenty feet behind me was a bear. It scared me so bad that for a minute I just stood there and stared at him. Then the scare wore off just a bit and I realized that not only was he sitting the on the bank, he was eating my fish! That wasn’t the only thing I noticed. He had made his self right at home. He was sitting there on his butt, both back legs spread out with all of my fish between his legs chomping away. He looked like a giant, hairy two year old sitting on the floor eating ice cream and he’s looking right at me! He had my biggest fish, the one I had planned for my fish supper and I watched as he stripped the skin off and ate it. I could even tell the fish was a female because the nest thing he did was eat the roe. Then to add injury to insult he tossed the rest of it down and picked up the next one.

   I finally after all that time catch a salmon. My pole was too small my line was to light but I did catch them and here was this giant hairy fur ball eating my fish! And I swear he was smiling while he did it! My first thought was to go running up there and beat the hell out of him with my fishing pole for taking my fish. My first rational thought was it’s a bear. It’s a big bear. Even sitting on his butt he was still taller than I was and I don’t think getting smacked on the nose with a fishing pole was going to faze him. The part that really drove me crazy was when he picked up the second one he looked at the fist until he had a hold of it, then He looks at me and at the river and back at me like ”What are you waiting for got get me another one” Oh I wanted to hit him so bad right then. My common sense finally kicked in though and instead of attacking him I slowly gathered up my stringer (at least it was close to me and he wasn’t going to get my trout) and eased off up the river watching him every step of the way. He didn’t move an inch just set there enjoying what should have been my fish diner. I watched him until I felt safe enough to turn around and head back to the cabin mumbling and grumbling all the way about those damn fish stealing bears.

   Bears, especially the fish stealing kind drove me crazy the first summer I was up there. I didn’t realize until later that I had built my cabin at the intersection of Bear Boulevard and Bear Avenue so there were lots of them around. Brown bears are really big. I had even thought about going bear hunting with a pistol one time. One of my favorite outdoor writers had done that and I figured if he could so could I. I had bought a 41 magnum pistol so I would always have my bear protection gun with me. The first time I saw a brown bear up close and in the wild the last thing I wanted to do was to have to pull that thing. Once he left I took a really close look at that gun. It looked huge when I bought it but after seeing that bear it began to look really small and all thoughts of bear hunting with it left my mind forever.

    Another thing that interested me about bears was how much effort they could put into something that I thought was going to yield them very little food. I could understand the fish; there was a lot of protein there for the effort. One day I was hiking throw the woods when I saw one digging like crazy at the base of a big fir tree. I could see that he was digging into a huge mound of fir needles so of course I figured he had buried some kind of carcass there and was back for another meal. I found a spot where I could see him good and settled down to watch the show. He was throwing needles and dirt everywhere, then he would stop and shove his nose into the pile then start digging again. I watched him for at least a half an hour but never did see him pull anything out of the pile. As soon as he stopped and got out of sight I went down to see if I could figure out what he had been digging for. It was ants. All that work for nest of black carpenter ants. It just didn’t seem like something that big would get enough food from a nest of ants to make the effort worthwhile.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Up North 5

Chapter 5

Taken a Break

   After seeing the sow and the cubs the day before I decided to spent a day working on the door lock. I was pretty proud of it by the time I got finished. I had carved the body from a single piece of spruce and the latch and handles from separate pieces. I had also carved out a recess in the door frame. After I attached the lock to the door and installed the handles you could push down on the handle which would raise the latch from the recess and pull the door open. I had installed the door so it would swing into the cabin; keep that in mind for later because I would be changing it. The door handle even had a lock on it not that it would keep a bear out but it made me feel a little better. I had carved a short piece of wood that would act as a lever to hole the latch down unless you used a key (Ok, the key was any stick but the bear didn’t know that).

   My next big project would be the fireplace. I had a large pile of rocks stacked at the rear of the cabin and I was waiting for the cement. I had finally met another person on the river. For the next few months it seems there were going to be quite a few people passing by. It seems that a guy from Circle had a charter boat that he would use to take people on a fishing trip between Circle and Fort Yukon. I guess he’d been by several times but I just never noticed him before. He knew there was another homesteader living on the river but wasn’t sure where I was so we kept missing each other. I was standing on the bank one day when he went by and seeing me he pulled in to say Hi and see if I needed anything. Over a cup of coffee I happened to mention that I wanted to build a fireplace but I was going to have to wait until I made another trip to Circle so I could get some cement. He ended up offering to bring it to me on his next trip down.

   Since the cement wasn’t there yet and to be truthful I was kind of tired of working on the cabin I decided to take a break and go exploring. I had been here at the cabin for close to two months and I hadn’t been over a half mile in almost any direction so I wanted to see what was out there. I loaded up my pack including a sleeping bag and gold pan since I was planning on being gone at least a couple of nights and headed up the creek. I had only gone about a mile when I found my first surprise. My creek had a waterfall. It wasn’t flowing as much as when I had first came to this spot but there was still plenty of water coming down off the rock. The falls must have been at least eight feet over all with a shelf about half way down. It was really pretty to watch the white water tumble down into a clear pool. Not only was it pretty, there were trout in the pool. I had one of those collapsible fishing poles in my pack and it only took a minute to dig it out. Those fish may have never been fished before because it only took me a half dozen casts to have two nice size ones. If nothing else happened at least supper was looking good for that night. I worked my way a couple of more miles up the creek and found a spot where it was flowing across a large section of bedrock. I decided to make camp there and use the last of the daylight to see if I could find any color in the bedrock. It was looking like it was going to rain that night so I cut some poles and made a lean to for my tarp which would at least keep me dry through the night. I drug a couple of good size logs to the front of it for the base of my fire then stacked as much firewood as I could. I hung my trout from a tree limb, dug out my gold pan and set out.

   I dug the sand and gravel out of the cracks in the bedrock until I had a pan full. One thing I noticed right off, even though the days might be getting warmer that water sure wasn’t. I found a tiny bit of color in that first pan. Not much more than to show me it was really there but the fever was on. I forgot all about my cold hands and I even took my boots off so I could wade out a little farther. I must have run fifteen to twenty pans before I realized I was getting rained on. I had been so wrapped up in gold panning I hadn’t paid and attention to what was going on around me. I gathered up my stuff (including my gold of which I had enough to at least see) and beat it back to the camp. Luckily it hadn’t been raining for long and I was able to find some dry tender and after a few tries I had a nice fire going. It’s not hard to keep a fire going in the rain as long as it’s not a downpour you just keep adding more wood. I had to hop back out in the rain to grab my fish which I had forgotten were hanging in the trees. I shoved everything to the back of the lean to and raked some of the coals from the fire under the tarp. I had fresh trout and beans that night laying under that tarp listening to the rain. That’s one of those nights you could wish would go on forever.

   I was going to head back to the cabin the next day but it was still raining the next morning so I decided to spend at least one more day. I hung out around camp feeding the fire and killing time for awhile until I got bored. The rain was tapering off so I thought I’d go back to the creek and try a few more pans. So far I had found about forty dollars worth of god and I was looking forward to finding some more. I’d only been on the creek for an hour of so when I heard something moving in the brush behind me. I was afraid it might be another bear but when I looked around it was a cow moose with her calf. I stayed as still as I could and watched them walk by. I’m not too worried about a bull moose except during mating season but you never know what a cow with a calf is going to do. She may just take off running as soon as she sees you or she could charge. It is really surprising at how mean they can get sometimes. This pair just gave me the evil eye a few times as they wandered on down the creek. I got back to panning as soon as they were out of site and by the time I decided to call it quits I had a few more penny weights of gold to add to my stash. By the time dark fell I had wondered on up the creek a ways, found another hole and caught a good size trout. I was back at camp having supper by the time it got full dark. I really wanted some more gold but I knew I still had work to do at the cabin so I decided to head back the next morning.

   Big surprise when I got home. There were five sacks of cement laying in the middle of the cabin. Looks like James (the guy with the fishing boat) was true to his word so now I can get started on the fireplace. He also left a trowel for the cement (I forgot to ask him about one but I’m really glad he thought of it) and a couple of cans of coffee. I appreciated that because you can never have too much coffee. I’m going to have to try to catch him next time and see if he can sell my gold for me so I don’t have to make the trip to town. I figure I have about a hundred bucks worth from the creek trip. However much it is I should get at least ¾ of the value which should be enough to keep me in supplies for awhile. I want to make a couple of more trips farther up the creek and see if I can find where it’s coming from. I’m not sure I can because what I got was mainly fine gold with just a couple of “pickers” which means it’s traveled a long way in the creek. For now the first thing I need to do tomorrow morning will be to try and figure out a fireplace. I have the idea of how to build one from books and the main thing has to be for the smoke to up the chimney instead of out in to the room, how hard can that be?

   It was still really hard to cut a hole in the wall of the cabin. No matter how many times I measured it just the thought of all the work I went through to get those walls up just makes you hate to do it. But after worrying myself crazy over it I finally ended up with a four foot by four foot hole cut right in the middle of the back one. I dug out the part of the gravel floor under the cabin wall and put down a double layer of flat rocks to form the base. That was it for the first day as I had to wait for the base to dry before I could add the walls. If I got things right the firebox would stick out into the room by about six to eight inches. I already had a spruce slab cut for the mantle which would be ten inches wide, four inches thick and a little over four feet long. The next day was wall building day. You know it’s hard to build a wall using river rock that are straight and plumb. I spent more of the day trying to pick out rocks that were flat on the top and bottom so I could use the least amount of cement. By the end of the day all I managed to have done were the side walls. Now I had to figure out how to put a top on the thing. I came up with a plan while I was sitting there staring at what I had done during the day. I could lay planks across the inside at the top and put rocks across it to make the top. Even better I could carve a rounded top piece so that when I put the rocks on top the firebox would have a rounded top. I spent most of the night getting the rounded top ready and the next morning when I tried it, it worked fine. Now all I had to do was wait for the rocks to dry and remove the wood form to see if it held.

    When I pulled the wooden form out surprisingly the top held up just fine. Now I had a fireplace that was nicely rounded at the top with just a little bit of an angle to the back. After that it was just a matter of stacking rocks up the back side of the cabin wall to make the chimney and that was not easy! I was trying really hard to keep the inside of the chimney as smooth as I could. I didn’t want rocks sticking out inside to catch the soot. Then I had to walk the river for over two miles just to find one flat rock big enough so I could put a rock on each corner and have that one cover the opening. I added a few more rocks to the inside to make a smooth spot for the mantle. I waited four full days for everything to dry before I lit the first fire. When I got the fire built up it was time to celebrate again. The fireplace worked like a charm. The smoke was going up the chimney just like it was supposed to and the warmth was coming out in the cabin. For a person that had never built one before and only had a vague idea of what they were supposed to look like I felt pretty proud of myself. I even fried my fish supper over the open fire just to show off.


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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Up North 4

Chapter 4

Heading Back

   I found a froe in town. I didn’t really have much hope of finding one at all since I don’t think there used that much in Alaska. For those of you who don’t know what a froe is if like a big steel blade with a circle on one end where the handle goes. The way you use it (for shingles) is to stand a block of wood on its end. The froe is sharp on the bottom side with the handle sticking up. You place it on the sharp edge on the wood and drive it down with a hammer. You can move the handle back and forth to change the direction of the split if you need to. When you get a piece split off you turn the block over and do the same thing from the other end. This gives you shingles that are tapered on each end. Up north they tend to make shingles out of cedar about 16” long down home we make most of them out of oak and they are about two feet long. Since I was going to be using spruce I was going to try and make them like we do down home. I’d have to think about that I did know where there was a couple of big cedar trees on the place both of which were already blown down so they might not be too hard to cut.

   The other thing I found in town was a little box stove and stove pipe. I was planning on having a fireplace in the cabin but the way a box stove is made you can pull a great out of the top and cook with it. I also picked up some seeds that the guy swears will grow in Alaska including some seed potatoes and onions. I would have to see since I have no idea what the growing season is. All I know after this shopping trip is I am totally tapped out. About the only thing I don’t have is meat and I’m planning (hoping) that I will be able to supply that through hunting and fishing. So here I am again camped out down the river a little ways from town. The canoe is even more over loaded than it was the first time and I have the thirty mile trip ahead of me. At least this time I have an idea of what’s in front of me. I have really mixed feeling right now part of me is in a hurry to get home and the other part is just as worried about the trip down.

   Back to the cabin at last. The trip back here ended up taking me six days total. I came down really carefully. I didn’t take any chances with any of the rapids. I packed all the supplies around each one of them including the stove which about killed me. That stove took a trip all by itself around each rapid and on one of them it took two days just to get it to the bottom. That thing better warm the entire cabin and cook meals by itself.

   The cabin was in fine shape and the only thing I saw out to the ordinary was the squirrel and mouse turds scattered around. I did find some claw marks on one of the trees out by the cache. I don’t know how dig the bear was that made them but when I measured them they a right at nine feet above the ground. I really don’t want to meet up with that bear. I got everything packed away in the cabin and cache. I built a nice fire and relaxed with a hot cup of coffee happy to be home again.

   The next day I planted the garden. I didn’t have any idea how long the growing season was but I knew there were warm days now and hadn’t been any frost for awhile. It wasn’t going to be a big garden anyway only about twelve feet by twelve feet of so. I picked a spot not too far from the cabin and closes to the creek in case I needed to haul water to it during the summer. Most of the rows went down just the same as you would do them here. I had had some beans, well quite a few beans both green and pinto. I also had peppers, lettuce and tomatoes plus the onion sets. The one thing I had to put extra work was my potatoes. I wasn’t at all sure these would grow up there but I worked my butt off building a dozen mounds for them since I had to haul dirt from another place in five gallon buckets.

   Now it was time to get back to work on the cabin. The first thing I did was to deck the porch using small pine trees. It wasn’t the smoothest in the word but at least it was a porch and as soon as I got the roof finished off it would be a great place to sit and enjoy the day. Next I needed to work on the door. I took three planks I had cut from the spruce logs and planed the edges down so they would fit tight together and be a little over three feet wide. On the inside I nailed three more planks across those one at the top, one at the bottom and one across the middle. On the front side I did the same to the top and bottom but this time I nailed one at a diagonal from corner to corner. I know this isn’t the way the pioneers would have done it but it was strong and good enough for me. Once I got the door hung the cabin really started feeling like home to me. I carved a simple drop latch to hold it closed for now but I was already thing about how to carve a wooden lock for it.

   It was time to start on the roof. The tarps I had put there were doing fine at keeping out the rain but I knew there was no way they would last through the winter. I started off by sawing some of the logs I had into two foot lengths then I took my new froe and tried splitting then into shingles. While this may have worked well down home using oak it didn’t seem to work to well using spruce. For one thing they were really hard to split the full length for another the ones I had were only about nine inches thick and it would take me most of the summer to get that many split. So the next morning I took my ax and saw and headed over to the cedar trees.

   The trees I went after had been blown down by a storm. They weren’t dead by any means there were still a lot of live branches on them and those were what I had to take care of first. I spent the first four hours getting all the limbs off and out of the way. The one I had pick was between two and three feet across and I’ll tell ya, when I started to make that first saw cut I had a whole new level of respect for the guys that did this way in the old days. That thing must have been at least a hundred feet tall and I was trying to cut it into eighteen inch chunks and that makes a lot of chunks. I kept at it until it was dark the just dropped my saw and staggered back to the cabin. I was sore tired and sore that there wasn’t even any supper that night. All I did was take my boots off and crawl in the sleeping bag and die.

   It wasn’t much better the next morning. I was sore in places that I didn’t even know could be sore I moaned and groaned around the cabin fixing me something to eat while wishing there was anything else I could do that day besides go back to that tree. In the end though I had no choice, I had to finish up that log or I’d be sleeping under that tarp the rest of the winter so off to the rock pile I went. Maybe my muscles loosened up during the day or I just ignored them but by the time it got dark I was almost finished. Back to the cabin I went for another dead sleep. I was really lucky that no bears came around for those few days because I don’t think I would have known one was there until he started chewing on my ankle.

   Now believe it or not I was kind of looking forward to the next day. I was still hurting the next morning but that was the day I was going to try splitting the sections into shingles. I knew how this was supposed to work from some books I had read I just wasn’t sure how it actually would work. According to everything I’d read cedar was supposed to be easy to split but since I’d never split and I wasn’t sure what they meant about easy. I do know I was really hoping it was going to work because I didn’t have a backup plan to finish off the roof.

   For once the books were right. I peeled the bark off one of the smaller ends with my splitting maul. Then I split it into quarters so the wood grain would run across the shingle. I put my froe on top and with two hits from the maul I had a tapered cedar shingle just like the books said I would. I did the happy dance around the clearing holding up that shingle like I had just discovered gold and as far as my roof went, I had. After that it was just buckle down and get er done. Once I really got the hang of it, it was surprising at how many shingles I could whack out in a day. Every evening I’d carry as many as I could back to the cabin and I took every third day off to put the shingles on the roof. At the rate I was going I would have the entire roof done in less than two weeks. The great thing about doing it this way was that if I ever needed to repair or replace any shingles it was just a short walk to get more.

   On the day I finished the roof I had a little celebration party. I took my fishing pole and wondered down to the river where it only took me about five casts to catch a nice trout. I fried him up with some onions from the garden and cooked him with the box stove I had installed while I was doing the roof. It was really relaxing sitting out on the porch knowing the roof problem was taken care of and watching the world go by. I wanted to enjoy it as much as possible because the next day there would still be a lot of work to do.

   The first thing the next morning I had to start on something that I had been putting off. I had been sawing planks from logs every time I had a little spare time and not I had a pretty fair stack of the by the cabin. One of the other things I’d been doing in my “spare” time was watching for good rock along the river. I was looking for something that was about six inches wide and flat as I could find on the top and bottom. I had it in my mind to build a fireplace at the end of the cabin. This was another one of those things where I really had no idea what I was doing but I had seen pictures in a book. Back to the planks and the reason I needed them. One thing I hadn’t built was an outhouse. I had tried to build one using the end of the cabin logs but it was just too small to notch logs for. It had taken me awhile to get around to it because it’s hard sawing planks from logs. I had made a couple of saw horses from some small logs (I screwed up three of them trying to get the angles right for the legs I ended up cutting the notches for the legs then cut them off to the right length after I put them on) I would lay the logs on the horses and saw down the log about three times the width of the saw. I would then remove the saw and drive a small wedge in the cut and move over another inch and make the same cut. After I had the entire log spread out like the fingers on a hand I’d go back and lengthen each cut to within an inch or so of the end of the log. Then I could saw the log off just above the ends of the cut. I had tried just sawing all the way down the side but it was harder to hold a straight line that way and the planks tended to split at the bottom. The outhouse wasn’t that hard to build since it was only four foot by four foot with the one bench. I think it took me longer to dig the hole than it did to build it. I did run into a little problem with the door. I had brought a pair of hinges for the cabin door but totally forgot about the outhouse. It took me two full days to figure out how to make a couple of wood hinges. After I had them made and on the outhouse I wished I’d have thought of that for the cabin as they added that pioneer look to it.

   Next up was to build a bunk and get my butt up off the floor with that sleeping bag. It was going to be a simple bunk. Over in one corner and made from a log frame with a small log deck. I may not be the most comfortable in the world but it at least it would be a bed and with the ground mat and my sleeping bag it should work. I also took some of the planks I had left and built a counter top and a couple of wall cabinets. The place was starting to look more like a home every day. Another problem I was going to have would be my window. I had picked up four 6” x 9” glass window panes while I was in town. They were all double paned units which I thought would be better for the winter but I didn’t have a frame for them. I had use most of the wood working tools and skills I had for the last few days trying to make a window frame that would hold all four pains. I had to split four pieces of spruce to make the outside frame plus notch them with a chisel so the edges of the pains would fit in them. Those weren’t too bad since they were about three inches wide and the groove was right down the middle. The next part was going to take some work. I needed to make a frame for the inside so I split four pieces about an inch square. There was one long one that would go all the way across the frame and two short ones that would be the verticals. The hardest part was carving the grooves for the panes on both sides the doing a mortise and tenon to join the two together. I filled up the kindling box for the stove before I finally got one to work but I did get it and now it was time to cut the opening in the wall. I really hated cutting holes after all the work I done on those walls so I ended up measuring the opening, sitting on the bunk staring at it, re-measuring it again, staring at it some more. I ended up doing that so much I had to wait till the next day to actually cut the hole. It wasn’t as bad as I thought once I got going and I had it cut, framed and the window in about four hours. Now I could stand at the counter and look out at the creek and what do I see but a big ole sow grizzly with two cubs walking between the cabin and the creek which is only about ten foot. I ducked down and crawled over to shut the door then watch them to make sure they went on down to the river.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Up North 3

Chapter 3

A Trip to the Store

   I got an early start the next morning. I hated to go off and leave all my stuff at the cabin without even a door to protect it. I hadn’t seen another person in over a month that I had been there but everything I owned other than the canoe and my pistol were there. I wasn’t used to the way the way the back woods of Alaska worked back then. Since that time I have learned to semi trust people that lived in the bush. I’ve had people stay at my cabin while I was gone and have never found any thing missing. Not only that but I have had any of the supplies they might have used either replaced at the time or at least no later than their next trip down the river. But on that trip I just wasn’t sure.

   I did pretty well that first day. It was hard paddling against the current but I was able to make decent time. I was even able to paddle through one set of rapids but as darkness started closing in I had still made it less than ten miles. I do believe I could have walked to town quicker that forcing that canoe up the river I just wouldn’t have been able to carry near as much stuff back. I found a little back water that would make a nice camp and pulled in before it got to dark to see. I hadn’t thought too much about what to bring on the trip as I was trying to keep the canoe as empty as I could so I’d be able to haul more stuff back. I really wasn’t looking forward to too many trips to town. I gathered some wood for the night, threw my sleeping bag down and decided to wander around for a bit. One thing I almost always carried with me was a plastic gold pan and I thought I try a couple of pans to see if I could find any color. I was walking along looking for a spot to sample a pan when I spotted something that was even better than gold. Right up next to a large boulder was a salmon. I didn’t even know enough about Alaska to even know what kind it was I just knew it was a big fish and I was hungry. I lay everything down and crawled out on the boulder so I was looking straight down and to my surprise there were at least four of them just hanging there in the water. I had no idea if this was going to work or not but I eased my hands down in the water just to the rear of them. Now, this was a little different than noodleing down home. For one thing, it might have been spring but that river was cold! It was like sticking your hands into ice water. The feeling started going away in my hands, my fingers were tingling and I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep them in the water very long. For another thing the fish were right out in the open. I’ve caught catfish back home this way, in slow moving warm rivers where I could take all the time I needed. Down home you slip your hand slowly up the side of the fish and grab him with both hands right behind the gills. I didn’t think that was going to work with salmon but I was desperate. The first one I tried that with did one flick of the tail and was gone. Now I had to hold my hands in the water waiting to see if the others were going to take off. My hands were starting to feel like ice cubes by then and I knew I had to make my move quick. I moved my hand up and over the next in line. I figured I’d take a chance and grab straight down at him. I had to scoot halfway out on the boulder in order to get a good shot at him. I held on as long as I could then grab down at him. I had him! I had gotten a good grip across his back and had a finger in each gill. The next part took me half a second to realize what was happening. As I lunged down to grab him all my attention was on that fish. I guess I should have paid a little more attention to my belly. As I grabbed him I had slide forward just a little past the point of no return. Instead of me pulling him up to me, I was going down to him. Let me tell you, if you think that water was cold from just sticking your hands in it you have no idea what it left like to dive head first into it.

   I’m not sure how I did it but when I finally got my head back above the water I still had a hold of that fish. I was real lucky to be in that back water instead f out in the main channel. I was able to get my feet under me still hugging that fish and make my way back to shore. By the time I got back to the camp and to the fire I could not help but laughing. Now I finally knew how Stanley had felt during all the time he had fell into the cold water when we were kids. I built the fire up like a fourth of July picnic party stripped of buck naked again and hung my cloths out to dry. I still had to clean the fish and stake him out to roast before I could climb into my sleeping bag and try to get warm. That was a really great supper that night although I’m not sure I’d want to pay the price again. Throughout the night every time the fire burned down I’d wake up and every time I had to build the fire back up so my cloths would dry. It was not really an enjoyable night.

   The cloths were finally dry be the time the next morning came along. I was still tired from the night before so I was a little slow getting started. I had a little piece of the left over salmon washed down with cold river water (I’d forgot to bring coffee) packed up my sleeping bag and what salmon I had left in my sack and headed up river again. I had only gone about five miles when I came to the next set of rapids. Now on this set on the way down I had to unload all my stuff and walk around the rapids. This time as tired as I was I figure I could paddle like hell between the first set of boulders up to some calm water then go like hell to reach the top. Sounded like a good idea at the time, does that sound like a familiar saying for some reason? I took off paddling as hard and fast as I could and made it through the first set of boulders to the calm water just beyond. I set there getting my breath back and planning the next move. I figured that if I went like crazy to the right of the next boulder I could make it to the calm water beyond and have a look at the last set. As soon as I got my wind back I took off digging in just as hard as I could. I was going up a slope of water that leaned my canoe back so far I couldn’t really see where I was headed. I had done this before on the Snake River and managed to climb a four foot water fall but for some reason no matter how hard I tried to turn to the right it just didn’t feel right. I knew I was in trouble as soon as I felt the bow of the canoe touch the rock. I had been pushed to the left but not quite enough to end up in the eddy behind the boulder. Thanks to my sleepy mind I ended up compounding the problem when I tried to dig the paddle in on the right and spin myself around. Instead of just slipping around the boulder I ended up turning completely across the current. Even know I had screwed up it was still a surprise when I flipped over. The water was just as cold as it had been the night before except no I was in the middle of the river. I tried to hang onto the canoe as we went back down the rapids but was knocked loose when we hit the first rock. I started fighting my way to the closest bank trying to keep my head above water. By the time I made it to the bank I was shaking so hard I wasn’t able to stand up and had to crawl up far enough to get out of the water. Now I had a real problem. It was turning out to be a pretty warm day but it wasn’t going to get warm enough or fast enough to do me much good. Once I was able to stand up I looked around for the canoe but wasn’t able to see it anywhere I really hoped it was somewhere close or at least on the same side of the river. I had to get a fire going and I needed to do it quick. At least I was smart enough to carry a fire starter in my pocket. A fire starter is just a small metal box with a thin piece of steel that fits over your hand, a piece of flint and a small bit of tender. At least there was plenty of firewood around and even though the tender might be wet there was more of that around and the flint and steel work wet or otherwise. I was having a real problem with the shaking as I gathered the stuff for the fire. I was trying to strip the inner bark off a cedar tree to use for tender and kept dropping half of it plus it was too hard to hold tight enough to get the small fibers off. I ended up laying it on a piece of driftwood and scrapping it enough to get a small pile even by doing it that way I cut my hands several time but at least they were too cold to feel it. It took me four times to gather a pile together. I was shaking so hard by then every time I tried to pile it up I just knock it back apart. Then came the fun part, trying to strike the flint with the steel. The steel fit across the fingers of your hand and across the palm. You would hole the flint in you other hand and strike it a glancing blow trying to knock a spark from the flint. I was having trouble just concentrating enough to get the steel to touch the flint. The first time I managed to strike a spark I just sat there and stared at it forgetting all about blowing on it or even trying to feed more wood to it. I don’t really remember how many times I tried to strike that spark before it dawned on me that there was smoke coming up. This time I got my face down close and blew on it enough to start a small flame I was afraid to pick it up because I might just shake it back apart.

   It took me most of an hour to finally get that fire going enough to put out any real heat. I was only able to drag a couple of pieces of wood to it without having to stop and rest. I really hated to leave it but as soon as I had it going well with enough wood stacked on it to build another cabin I had to go look for the canoe. Thankfully I found it on a gravel bar about half a mile down the river. I had already found the paddle which I was sure I would never find again. My sleeping bag and the rest of the gear was still tied to the front seat and even though it was a little damp I would still be able to use it. It took me another hour to drag it back to the fire which had burned down to coals by then. I kicked the fire over to a new spot and leaned my canoe over the warm ground. I drug the biggest log I could handle over to the fire, added some more wood, put my cloths back out to dry, again. Then I climbed under the canoe in the sleeping bag and didn’t know a thing until about noon the next day.

   The next day was almost a letdown since nothing happened. There was no falling in the river and after having done that two days in a row I just don’t know how I was going to stand not running around naked waiting for my cloths to dry. I was a little gun shy of the river though. I could carry the canoe and what little gear I had at the same time so I had walked up past the rapids. Once I to the calm water above them I was surprised to find myself a little reluctant to get in the canoe and back out on the water. Falling in might be funny after it’s all over but not while it’s happening. The problem was that the only way to get around where I was would be either water or walk. I already knew I would be able to walk to town faster than I could paddle but there was no way I was going to be able to supply myself for the winter on foot I needed the canoe. In the end it was a practical thought that got me going again. I was on the wrong side of the river and I had to use the canoe to get to the right side. For the rest of the way to town I did walk around every rapid no matter how small it was and I was very careful each time I was on the river. I spent one more night camped by the river. I could have traveled at night and made it to town but after the dunking the day before I was just plain give out. I up bright and early the next morning in a hurry to get to town finally I was so close I could almost smell the coffee cooking. I still took it easy crossing and was in town by ten that morning.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Up North

Chapter 2

Settling In

   I had spent the previous night gathering firewood and putting together a small camp. I still slept a little nervous that night after my run in with the bear but other than something small running around in the brush during the night it passed fairly quietly. I think part of the reason it had passed quietly was because it had snowed during the night and when I came crawling out of the tent the next morning it was a sight to behold. There was a blanket of snow as far as the eye could see. The creek running through the snow made it look like a Christmas card. I think the one thing that surprised me the most was how quite it was. As I was cooking breakfast the loudest sound around was the crackle of the flames, no cars and no planes. Even camping in the desert you could almost always at least hear the sound of planes passing over head.

   I had a few tarps along with me and I used a couple of them to add a cover at the front of the tent. I was glad I did because it started raining as I was gathering more wood. I spent most of that day just kicked back by the fire enjoying the silence and watching the world go by. I saw two deer and one moose heading up the trail that day along with assorted squirrels some robber jays and a couple of grouse. Not bad for a first day. By the next morning the snow was gone and the rain had tapered off enough for me to do some exploring. I noticed as I walked along that there was a really good trail running by the creek all the way down to the river. Between the rain and the fact that most of the trail was across a gravel bar it was impossible to tell what kind of tracks were on it, but keep that trail in mind as we go along.

   I wasn’t going anywhere special that day just checking out the country side when I found something that I figured was going to save me a lot of time. About a half a mile down the river was a grove of spruce trees. It looked like there had been a beaver pond on the creek that ran through the trees. I wasn’t sure what happened to the dam but it was gone and the creek was back to normal. The part that was going to save me labor was that the trees on each side of the creek were all dead. From what I could see they had been in the water at least a foot deep before the dam washed out. Most of the limbs were gone but all the ones I checked felt firm with no rot except right at the bottom. The great thing was there must have been thirty or forty down that creek and if my calculations were correct that would be more than enough to build the walls to my cabin. I hustled back to the camp planning on getting started falling them that day. The problem with that plan was the large bear track I found on the way back. He must have come by while I was up looking at the trees. I knew they were fresh because one of them was on top of my tracks. At least this time I was kind of ready since I had both my rifle and pistol with me. I didn’t really want to have to kill a bear especially not a spring bear. For one thing they don’t taste very good for another he hadn’t been out of hibernation for very long which meant he didn’t have much meat on him anyway. However, if it came to who eats who I was planning on doing my best to have bear steaks for supper. About the time I got back to my creek I saw him across the gravel bar checking out the river. I was right, he was a pretty scrawny looking bear, big, but scrawny. I watched him for awhile to make sure he was headed on up river before I went back to the camp. Thankfully nothing had been bothered at the camp but I realized it was going to be safe just leaving everything lying around. I really needed to remember that I wasn’t in Oklahoma anymore and there were things in these woods that could and would hurt me.

    I spent the rest of the day packing most of my supplies into tarp packs and hanging them from trees. But the time I finished with everything it looked like a weird fruit orchard but at least they were safe. I gathered a huge pile of firewood because I was still a little worried about just sleeping in the tent. Not that I had much choice but that tent was going to be no protection from a bear. The next morning I got to work on a real cache to at least hold my food. I didn’t have a lot of it but having it up and out of the way would at least keep it from attracting bears. I didn’t want to cut any of the spruce trees I had found for the cache because I wanted to be able to use them all for the cabin. I headed back up the creek and managed to find four nice pine trees about twenty feet long. I knew they wouldn’t last as long as a spruce but I figured I could replace this cache with a better one once I had more time. I dug four holes and buried the butts down a couple of feet, leaning all four of the poles to the center. I put temporary cross braces across the bottom to hold them in place and because I’d forgotten about not having a ladder. I had to go find a couple more long pines plus a few short ones so I could build a ladder and be able to reach the top. I managed to get the four cross braces installed at the top of the poles and only fell off the ladder one time. I built a platform at the top using short poles. I was pretty happy with it when I got done. It was about four foot by six foot and had plenty of room to hold all my stuff. I didn’t build walls or a roof on this one because I knew I’d have to do a better one before winter and with everything up there and covered with a tarp at least I wouldn’t have to worry about bears.

   The next morning I took my ax and saw up to the spruce trees and started on the cabin logs. I spent the entire day cutting, trimming and stacking the logs. I figured I’d be able to get enough logs from that one stand to do a cabin at least fourteen feet by fifteen feet. Since most of the trees were between eight and twelve inches in diameter I should be able to have wall at least seven feet tall. I really wanted a peaked roof but I wasn’t sure what I would use to cover it. If I made a shed rood it would take a lot less material to cover. I spent more of that first day worrying about the shape of the roof than I did cutting the walls. At the end of the day came the hard part. The only way I had of getting the logs back to the cabin site was to drag them. I had some good ones that were a little over a foot in diameter that I wanted to use for the base logs so I wanted to take them back first. I tied a couple of ropes to four of them and looped it over my shoulders. Now those logs may not have been really big but dragging them across the ground through the brush down to the river then around the drift wood and across the gravel was rough. I made it a little over half way before my shoulders were killing me and I had to leave two of them. I made it up to the cabin with the first two then had to rest awhile before I could go back and get the others. As sore as I was it felt really good sitting by the fire that night with be beginnings of my home sitting there by me.

   I spent the better part of another week getting all the trees down. I had wrapped some cloth around my rope harness for pulling them. It sure didn’t make it any more comfortable but at least it didn’t rub the hide off me every time I pulled some. After the third trip of so I had a path worn out between the grove and the river at least that helped some. Plus I’d moved the driftwood out of the way. For a time there I had logs scattered all along the river bank. I’d always start out dragging more than I could handle and would end up dropping part of them. Every time I had a little extra energy I’d pull a couple on up to the site. Finally at the end of that week I had a stack of about sixty logs ready to work. I had only seen three more bears during the week two of which were on the other side of the river plus one moose that just stood in one place and stared at me. I guess I did look pretty funny to him dragging those logs along.

   I had built a couple of x frames so I could get the logs off the ground in order to peel the bark off them and be able to saw them to length. It doesn’t take a lot of thought while you’re peeling logs and I was running along on auto pilot one morning when I realized I didn’t want to just stack the logs directly on the ground. If I did it that way I was going to have problems with rot on the bottom logs and since I was planning on living there for years I didn’t want to think about trying to re build the cabin. After lunch I went over to the spot I had picked for the cabin and started digging out and area of about twenty feet by twenty feet. I had to dig sown about six inches to get rid of all the pine needles and roots. Then I took a couple of five gallon buckets and headed down to the river. The way the spring runoff works in the river there are a couple of separate gravel bars. The larger ones are closer to the river but above that was a layer of small ones that I would be able to use. I spent the next three days carrying that gravel from the river up to the spot and back again, god, what I would have given for a conveyer belt. Finally I had a layer over six inches deep. I had tried to tamp it down as I brought it up I must have broken at least three homemade tampers. It was great but at least I didn’t have to worry about drainage on the bottom logs.

   I worked half of the next day getting those first four logs down. I must have measured those thing a dozen time before I’d cut the first notch in them. If those first one weren’t square then none of the cabin would be. Plus there was just way to much work in getting those logs to take a chance on screwing them up. I’ll tell ya, there’s something special about laying the foundation to your own place. Even though I had only started and still had a lot of work to do I took a break, leaned back by the fire, had a cup of coffee and did nothing but admire those logs. I had them laid out so the cabin would be fourteen feet wide and fifteen feet long with the two side logs sticking out another six foot so I could have a porch. I was sure how I would build that but if I couldn’t figure it out later I could always cut them off. After all I was building this thing from some pictures I’d seen in a book.

   Once I got the hang of it the cabin wall went up pretty quick. It only took me four days to get the walls up to a little over seven feet and I figured that would be tall enough. I still wanted a peaked roof plus I really wanted that porch on the front. It took some trial and error (more error than I wanted0 but I finally figured out it I just kept cutting the logs back on the front and rear I could have a ridge at the top. I also put in two posts for the porch plus a log across the top of them so I could run the side logs out to it and make a porch. I was trucking along nicely until the third day when I wasn’t paying attention and slipped of a log half way up the roof. It didn’t really hurt me just kind of knocked the wind out of me and since I didn’t have a door or any windows cut in the side walls it was a little hard to get back out. The main thing it really brought home was how alone out there I was. Something like a broken leg would really be a bad thing. I’d been there for over three and a half weeks and hadn’t seen another person. I was going to have to start paying attention and be more careful.

   The roof peak is done and today I cut the hole for the door. There is still a lot of work to be done. There is no roof covering other than a couple of tarps. The porch is just the two side logs and the posts. It is covered with the same tarp as the roof. I will get the hole cut for the door but it is doubtful I will have the door finished today. But at least I’m going to be sleeping inside walls tonight. I have taken two twelve inch spruce logs and sawn them into boards about an inch thick. I will use these to frame the doorway and to make the door I already have two hinges I brought along just for this. I also have about thirty pounds of different size nails. I am planning on my door just being a slab out lined with board on both sides so the nails will come in real handy. I’m still working on the roof covering idea. I’ve thought about using moss. There’s a really thick kind that grows here which I think is more of lichen than it is a moss. Anyway you can cut it in sections and use it for roofing since it doesn’t need dirt to grow in. I saw a guy in Circle that had used it on one of his out buildings. What I’d really like to use would be spruce shingles. The problem with that is that even though I know how to make them one item I forgot is a froe to split them with. I did get the door opening cut and framed with the boards I had made. I moved everything into the cabin and headed down to the river to take a break and see if I could catch a fish for supper. My supplies were getting a little thin and a fresh caught fish would be a great addition.

   Last night I did manage to catch one fish for a really great supper. I moved ever thing into the cabin although I forgot about the fact I’ve been sleeping on soft pine needles for over a month and forgot how hard that gravel floor was going to be. Today I am packing everything either in the cache or the cabin and blocking it off as best I can because I’m headed back to town. I figure it’s going to take me about six days to make the round trip knowing that I have to paddle and carry the canoe up river to town and I remember what it was like coming down. I am really short on food so I have no choice plus I want to get the froe and take a shot at making the shingles. I’m a little worried about leaving everything as I have seen a couple more bears and one wolverine but I just don’t have the option.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Up North

Chapter 1

Starting Out

   This little trip happened before I moved back to Seattle. I was looking for something back in those days. I didn‘t know what it was but I figured I’d recognize it when I saw it. I’d wandered through California, Nevada, Origen and Washington without really finding anything when I happened to get an opportunity to go to work driving a truck in Alaska. I flew from Seattle up to Fairbanks where I met with the company and took a little driving test around town. They must have really needed drivers because once the hired me I found out I wouldn’t be driving around town but up the pipeline road which was frozen solid. No wonder the guy giving me the test kept asking if I had every driven in ice and snow. It really wasn’t a bad job and let me tell you they paid really well and since I was single and more or less living in the truck it didn’t take to long to save you a nice little nest egg. The only drawback was that it looked like the job was only going to last through the winter. I was in Fairbanks when I heard there might be a chance to homestead over by Circle on the Yukon River. This just might be what I was looking for. I’d been trying to be a “mountain man” since Stanley and I were kids and this would be the chance to see if I could really cut it. I checked it out with the Alaska D.N.R and found out there was some land over there that might be open for homesteading. They weren’t a hundred percent sure and they didn’t make it sound very good. The only way to get to the property would be by walking or by boat trip on the Yukon River either from Circle or Fort Yukon. There was no electricity and never would be to any of the properties. The only water would either be from a hand dug well or we would have to get it from rivers or creeks. I would have to live on the property and do improvements on it each year for at least five years in order to own it. There were a lot more regulations I would have to meet but the more I thought about it the more this seemed like something I could do. I had to make a few more trips with the truck so I could save up some more money but since my job was mainly through the winter I’d be ready to go as soon as the ice melted. When I decided to call it quits with the truck I caught a ride with a pilot friend since there was only one road to Circle and it was a lot quicker to fly than to drive. I hung out in town for a week getting all my supplies ready and trying to learn all I could about the area I was headed to. I bought a fourteen foot canoe from a guy in town. I also loaded up with firearms getting a 30-30 rifle, a 41mag pistol, a 22 rifle and a 12 gauge shotgun. On a sunny spring day I was ready to go.

   I loaded up my fourteen foot canoe with all the tools I thought I would need to build a cabin plus what I assumed would be more than enough food and supplies to last at least thirty days before heading downstream. Of course this made for an extremely overloaded canoe. I had just enough room in the back to work the paddle with a mound in front of me that I couldn’t see over. There was still snow on the ground even though it was early spring and everyone in town had told me that it wouldn’t all be melted off for at least another month but the river was open and I was ready to go. My destination was a small sandy beach about 30 miles down the Yukon River where a small creek flowed into it. I had never actually seen the area I was going to but I was sure I could find it from the maps I had. I’d never really seen the Yukon during spring flood either. If it’s true that ignorance is bliss then I was definitely in hog heaven.

   I left out at daybreak just as soon as it was light enough to see. I figured it would take me a couple of days to get to the homestead and I didn’t want to rush it. With my usual lack of planning and no more forethought than Stanley and I had as kids down the river I went. The Yukon close to Circle has to be at least a mile wide. The main channel runs closest to town and you could see the flood plain across it. All broken trees and gravel bars. I knew there were other channels over there but I never knew how many. The maps I had never really did justice to it. It was more like a swamp down home or river delta of the Mississippi. I kept waiting for the channels to come back together and make one river, but they never did. For the first few miles it wasn’t too hard keeping to the main channel because it was the deepest and fastest but then it split into three different ones all about the same. Since I was going down the left bank I ended up in the left channel and boy was that a wrong choice. By the time I finished the trip I found there were five sets of rapids in the channel I was following. I made it through the first two all right even though I was thanking my lucky starts that I had an aluminum canoe after bouncing off a few rocks. On the third one I hit a rock dead center with the front of the canoe which shoved me around cross wise of the current and over I went. Thank god I had everything packed in water tight bags or tied to the canoe. I managed to hang onto the canoe as I worked my way over to the bank and was able to drag it ashore. That ended my first day on the river. I’d made it about ten miles. I had to spend the rest of the day building a fire and running around buck naked trying to dry out my cloths plus running a half mile down the river to get my paddle back. Thankfully the only one out there to see me was one bear and a moose. By the time I had everything unloaded, dried out and repacked in the canoe it was too late in the day to travel any more that night.

   I hung out a little longer the next morning. I wanted to make sure I had plenty of daylight before heading out. After a leisurely breakfast I loaded everything up and started out again. Things went pretty well the first half of that day mainly because I was taking it easy and trying my best to stay in the main channel. A little after noon things started to go bad though. I ran into some rapids in the main river. I was drifting along not paying attention when I came around a bend and right into the first set. I made it through those even though it scared the hell out of me and made my way over next to the bank just in case there were more of them. It was a good thing I did because the rest of that set were the worst yet. I managed to see them in plenty of time to paddle over to a smaller channel. I ended up having to get out and wade through the smaller one dragging the canoe behind me to get around them. The bad news was that as soon as the channel I was in rejoined the river I could see rapids for at least a mile down the river. I decided to be on the safe side that day so I beached the canoe while I walked down to look around the next river bend and see what I was in for. What I saw wasn’t good. There was no way I was going to be able to get the canoe down through all the rapids and around the rocks, especially not with it loaded like it was. My only option was to unload all my stuff and carry everything down to the next calm area which was about two miles away. I made two trips before dark but had to leave some of the supplies and the canoe. I got everything hung from trees so I wouldn’t have to worry about bears and headed back to the canoe and what I hoped would be a warm camp for the night.

   I was up and at it early the next morning making the first trip with the rest of the supplies before daybreak. It was after ten by the time I made the last trip carrying the canoe. It was time for a little breakfast and a rest before I started reloading everything. I was sure I’d find the creek that day. It looked to me like I had about ten more miles to go and I thought I’ be at the spot by no later than three that after noon. Again the map didn’t add quite enough detail. There was one more set of rapids. This one had about three different channels, two of them were to shallow to drag the canoe through and the main one had rocks the size of Volkswagens. I figured you might be able to get past that set if you had a jet boat but there was no way I was going by with my overloaded canoe. Back I went to the piss ant mode unloading everything and carrying it down the bank. My first trip down the river held a real shocker for me. I was trucking along with my head down just trying to get to the end when I happened to glance. There in the trail about fifty feet in front of me was the biggest brown bear I’d ever seen. The trail on both sides of us was over grown with trees and brush so there was no way for me to run even if I had wanted to. I was just standing there bent under about eighty pounds of gear to scared to run, which turned out to be the best thing. I was trying to slip my hand down to my pistol not that I had any hope of being able to stop him at that distance. About that time he stood up to get a better look at me. He shuffled back and forth on the trail and snapped his jaws a few time and that’s when I thought he’s charge. He just stood there looking at me for what seemed like hours then dropped back down turned and ambled off down the trail. I didn’t move until he was completely gone from sight then I had to sit down for awhile just to get my legs to stop shaking. I never saw him again as I finished packing my stuff below the rapids. I had it all finished by dark after which I tried to burn up half the drift wood on that river and spent a very tense night. I finally made it to the creek late the next day only to find the flat bench next to the river was really a gravel bar in the flood plain and instead of just taking me a couple of days to get there if had taken me four and I wasn’t done yet. Since the creek was deep enough to paddle up and I had 160 acres to pick from I headed up it for about a quarter of a mile until I found a likely spot. There was what looked like an old beaver meadow nest to the creek. There was a high spot close to the creek with a grove of trees and a good spot to beach the canoe and a nice trail back down to the river. I was home even thought the only thing to welcome me there was a little pine squirrel and the silence.